Twelve years ago I arrived in the Great Bear Rainforest for my first job as a wildlife guide. I was a seasoned field biologist and had spent many seasons over mountains and tundra, but the coast was a whole new world for me. My boat skills were rusty, I knew almost nothing about the ocean and tides – and very little about grizzly bears. But it was not difficult to decipher that I was in a very special place. And it did not take me long to fall in love with it.
Now, all these years later, I still can’t express how enlivened I feel when I am here. The mingling of forest and ocean, the tracks of wolves and bears along river banks, salmon leaping in the bays – experiencing all this is a wonderful and visceral thing.
I am not new at this anymore. I can handle boats and navigate the archipelagos using charts, GPS and radar. I’ve traipsed through many estuaries and along countless wildlife trails through enchanting mossy forests. Along the way I’ve worn out several pairs of rubber boots, and logged untold numbers of days watching and photographing bears while guiding folks from more than a dozen different countries.
But to a certain degree, this place makes me feel like I will always be something of a neophyte. And I like that. There is always more to discover. This coast has a way of stirring up a childlike fascination with one’s surroundings. I see it happen to the people that I guide on wildlife viewing trips – the experience captivates and moves them. Sharing those moments is one of my favourite things about the job.
Several years ago, I sat beside a French visitor in a viewing platform 10 feet off the ground in a large Sitka spruce. It was a mist-shrouded morning with water droplets on all the mossy branches around us. Below us salmon stirred in the river. We were sitting on a wooden bench, breathing in that moist air, and hoping a grizzly bear would appear. Somewhere a raven croaked, the river gurgled and salmon splashed. We waited.
Over the years I’ve had many breathtaking encounters with bears in the Great Bear Rainforest (grizzly, black and white). I’ve watched bears playing, nursing, fighting, mating, hunting, sleeping and everything in between. I’ve watched some bears grow from tiny cubs into burly adults. But the strange thing is, I don’t remember if we saw a bear on that particular day. What I do remember is the essence of that rainforest morning – the pure wonder of it.
After a while my French companion turned to me and gestured towards the scene around us. Then he leaned in close and whispered “C’est magique.” Years have passed since that day and I still cannot express that experience, or the place, any better than that.